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Nature’s Network helps open new doors to climate corridors in Maine

More than 50 conservation practitioners working in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and maritime Canada attended a training at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve to learn how landscape scale datasets can help them protect and connect sites that are most likely to support biodiversity in the face of climate change.
Nature’s Network helps open new doors to climate corridors in Maine

Workshop participants use the North Atlantic LCC's Conservation Planning Atlas to explore regional datasets designed to help them find local opportunities for supporting biodiversity in a changing climate.

In late June, more than 50 people gathered inside an old barn on the grounds of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Maine in a room that once served as the milking parlor at historic Laudholm Farm. They weren’t there to learn how to run a dairy.

Although it’s been decades since milk from Guernsey cows was collected in that room and shipped to Boston in the form of sweet butter and cream, something analogous was happening at the farm that day. Compared to much of the Northeast, northern New England is a veritable land of milk and honey in terms of open space. But conservation practitioners from across Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont flocked to Wells Reserve to a workshop to learn how to identify the creme de la creme. Given predictions about how climate change will affect the landscape, they wanted to know what places should rise to the top for conservation to support species movement as temperature changes.

During a daylong workshop hosted by the Open Space Institute (OSI) and the Land Trust Alliance (LTA) organized as part of their Land Trust Climate Change Initiative, representatives from conservation nonprofits, state wildlife agencies, and dozens of land trusts were introduced to concepts and resources that can help them find and protect sites that are most likely to support biodiversity in a changing climate.

Abigail Weinberg, Director of Research for OSI, organized the workshop in partnership with LTA and the state land trust associations. “Land trusts are on the front lines of climate change,” she said. “It is critical that these organizations have access to the best science and data as they prioritize what lands to protect in order to support the survival of a diversity of plants and animals.”

One avenue for access is the Conserving Nature in a Changing Climate guide, produced by OSI and LTA in 2016 with support from the North Atlantic LCC. The guide synthesizes the latest climate-resilience science in a report and accompanying website designed to empower small conservation groups that can make a big impact on landscape conservation. But the workshop helped bring those concepts to life.

Weinberg highlighted two complementary tools that practitioners can use to refine conservation priorities or look for opportunities to collaborate with neighbors: The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Resilient and Connected Landscapes dataset, and the North Atlantic LCC’s Nature’s Network conservation design, both of which focus on connecting networks of high quality lands and waters that can support wildlife and people into the future.

Participants then heard from some of the technical experts behind the tools. David Patrick, Director of Conservation for TNC in New Hampshire, described the approach used to identify climate corridors in the Resilient and Connected Landscapes project (also developed with the support of the North Atlantic LCC). Michale Glennon, Director of Science for the Wildlife Conservation Society Adirondacks Program and a member of the Nature’s Network technical team, explained the corridor analysis used to define regional connectivity for that project.

While there are advantages to both approaches, the point of presenting the tools side-by-side was to emphasize that corridors can be identified supporting broad movement across a landscape -- the TNC approach -- or for connecting two specific sites -- the Nature’s Network approach. But ultimately, it takes local knowledge to groundtruth results, identify realistic goals, and make the human connections needed to achieve them. You can’t use a shovel to skim cream from a saucer of milk.

After the presentations, participants had the opportunity to dig into the data in small groups using OSI’s Land Protection in a Changing Climate gallery on the North Atlantic LCC’s Conservation Planning Atlas.

For Bryan Wentzell, Maine Policy Director for The Appalachian Mountain Club, the tools confirmed what he already knows about the state. “What we see when looking at the laptop is that our whole area is covered with cores and connectors,” he said.

But Wentzell continued that the added value of landscape-scale tools is that they help make that case to people who aren’t already familiar with the area. “Being able to show funders that this area is considered a national priority based on regional datasets is really important,” he said.

Ecologist Kristen Puryear of the Maine Natural Areas Program pointed out that in addition to highlighting important areas, the tools can help identify the most effective ways to protect them by showing how their relationship to other features and sites. “If someone comes to me with questions about protecting a parcel, I can look at where it lies on the landscape and say, this is one of the strategies you can use to conserve it,” she said.

At the end of the workshop, Amanda Shearin of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife spoke about opportunities to work with state agencies to increase connectivity, including by using them as technical support for applying regional datasets. The technical team for Nature’s Network included representatives from all 13 state wildlife agencies in the Northeast region.

“Using the state information as a complement to regional information you heard about today, you can really hone in on local priorities,” said Shearin.

As a follow-up to this workshop, OSI and LTA will be holding a training in New Hampshire on December 7, 2017, [] to provide guidance on communicating about climate adaptation to land trust board members and other stakeholders. The Nature’s Network team is planning more in-depth trainings on various components of the project that will be announced this fall.

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